Friday, November 24, 2006


What role does poverty play?
The percentage of the population of India living in poverty is high. In 1990, 37% of the urban population and 39% of the rural population was living in poverty (International Labour Organization 1995, 107). Poverty has an obvious relationship with child labour, and studies have "revealed a positive correlation - in some instances a strong one - between child labour and such factors as poverty" (Mehra-Kerpelman 1996, 8). Families need money to survive, and children are a source of additional income. Poverty itself has underlying determinants, one such determinant being caste. When analyzing the caste composition of child labourers Nangia (1987) observes that, "if these figures are compared with the caste structure of the country, it would be realised that a comparatively higher proportion of scheduled caste children work at a younger age for their own and their families’ economic support" (p. 116). Scheduled caste (lower caste) children tend to be pushed into child labour because of their family’s poverty. Nangia (1987) goes on to state that in his study 63.74% of child labourers said that poverty was the reason they worked (p. 174).
The combination of poverty and the lack of a social security network form the basis of the even harsher type of child labour -- bonded child labour. For the poor, there are few sources of bank loans, governmental loans or other credit sources, and even if there are sources available, few Indians living in poverty qualify. Here enters the local moneylender; for an average of two thousand rupees, parents exchange their child’s labour to local moneylenders (Human Rights Watch 1996, 17). Since the earnings of bonded child labourers are less than the interest on the loans, these bonded children are forced to work, while interest on their loans accumulates. A bonded child can only be released after his/her parents makes a lump sum payment, which is extremely difficult for the poor (Human Rights Watch 1996, 17). Even if bonded child labourers are released, "the same conditions of poverty that caused the initial debt can cause people to slip back into bondage" (International Labour Organization 1993, 12).
Even though poverty is cited as the major cause of child labour, it is not the only determinant. Inadequate schools, a lack of schools, or even the expense of schooling leaves some children with little else to do but work. The attitudes of parents also contribute to child labour; some parents feel that children should work in order to develop skills useful in the job market, instead of taking advantage of a formal education.
Indian Government Policy on Child Labour
From the time of its independence, India has committed itself to be against child labour. Article 24 of the Indian constitution clearly states that "No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment" (Constitution of India cited in Jain 1985, 218). Article 39 (e) directs State policy such "that the health and strength of workers . . . and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength" (Constitution of India cited in Human Rights Watch 1996, 29). These two articles show that India has always had the goal of taking care of its children and ensuring the safety of workers. The Bonded Labour System Act of 1976 fulfills the Indian Constitution’s directive of ending forced labour. The Act "frees all bonded laborers, cancels any outstanding debts against them, prohibits the creation of new bondage agreements, and orders the economic rehabilitation of freed bonded laborers by the state" (Human Rights Watch 1996, 30). In regard to child labour, the Indian government implemented the Child Labour Act in 1986. The purpose of this act is to "prohibit the employment of children who have not completed their 14th year in specified hazardous occupations and processes" (Narayan 1988, 146). ILO convention No. 138 suggests that the minimum age for employment should not be less than fifteen years, and thus the Child Labour Act of 1986 does not meet this target (Subrahmanya 1987, 105).
A recent advance in government policy occurred in August of 1994, when then- Prime Minister Narasimha Rao announced his proposal of an Elimination of Child Labour Programme. This program pledges to end child labour for two million children in hazardous industries as defined in the Child Labour Act of 1986, by the year 2000. The program revolves around an incentive for children to quit their work and enter non-formal schooling: a one hundred rupee payment as well as one meal a day for attending school (Human Rights Watch 1996, 119-120). Where the funds for this program will come from is unknown. The government needs eight and a half billion dollars for the program over five years, and yet "about 4 percent of the five-year estimated cost was allocated for child labour elimination programs in 1995-1996" (Human Rights Watch 1996, 120).
All of the policies that the Indian government has in place are in accordance with the Constitution of India, and all support the eradication of Child Labour. The problem of child labour still remains even though all of these policies are existent. Enforcement is the key aspect that is lacking in the government’s efforts. No enforcement data for child labour laws are available: "A glaring sign of neglect of their duties by officials charged with enforcing child labor laws is the failure to collect, maintain, and disseminate accurate statistics regarding enforcement efforts" (Human Rights Watch 1996, 131). Although the lack of data does not mean enforcement is nonexistent, the number of child labourers and their work participation rates show that enforcement, if existent, is ineffective.

Education and its effects on child labour
What is the current state of education in India in comparison to other developing countries?
India’s state of education lacks effectiveness in yielding basic literacy in the population. It has been observed that "the overall condition of the education system can be a powerful influence on the supply of child labour" (Grootaert and Kanbur 1995, 193). The 1991 Census of India shows that 64% of males and 39% of females are literate (The World Bank 1995, 113) -- an increase of 17% and 14% respectively from the 1981 census (Census of India 1981 cited in Weiner 1991, 11). These increases seem significant, but India’s overall literacy rate of 40.8% lags behind other developing countries such as China (72.6%), Sri Lanka (86.1%), and Indonesia (74.1%), all of which have Per Capita Incomes comparable to India’s (Weiner 1991, 161). India’s primary-school survival rate of 38.0% is also lower than China’s rate of 70.0% and Sri Lanka’s rate of 90.8% (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization cited in Weiner 1991, 159). This indicates that few students are reaching fifth or sixth grade, and dropout rates support this conclusion. Dropout rates measured by the Department of Education show that 35% of males and 39% of females dropout (Government of India cited in The World Bank 1995, 113). What is the reason for these high dropout rates and poor school survival rates? One possible argument given by Nangia (1987) is that "the pressing need for the child’s earnings as well as low perceived advantages of school" cause parents to withdraw children from school and deposit them in the labour force (p.182). In this case, poverty and the inadequacy of the school system play significant roles in causing child labour, but also affect each other. Poverty forces high dropout rates, and thus no matter how good schools are, school survival rates and literacy rates will still remain low.
Compulsory Education
The concept of compulsory education, where all school aged children are required to attend school, combats the force of poverty that pulls children out of school. Policies relating to compulsory education not only force children to attend school, but also contribute appropriate funds to the primary education system, instead of higher education.
An example of a country where compulsory education has worked to reduce child labour is Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government decided to enforce compulsory education in the 1920’s and 1930’s (Weiner 1991, 173). With this compulsory education policy, school participation rates rose from 58 percent in 1946 to 74 percent in 1963 (Weiner 1991, 173). The literacy rate also increased from 58 percent in 1946 to 86 percent in 1984 (Weiner 1991, 172). The corresponding result has been that the employment rate of children in the ten to fourteen age group has shown a substantial decline from 13 percent in 1946 to 6.2 percent in 1963 (Weiner 1991, 174), and currently stands at 5.3% for males and 4.6% for females (International Labour Organization 1995, 113). These trends lead Weiner (1991) to the conclusion that "Sri Lanka has achieved a remarkably high enrollment rate, high retention rate, and a corresponding decline in child labor" (p.175).
The Indian state of Kerala distinguishes itself from the rest of India with its educational system. The government of Kerala allocates more funds to education than any other state, with a per capita expenditure of 11.5 rupees compared to the Indian average of 7.8 rupees (Weiner 1991, 175). It is not only the expenditure of more funds, but where the funds are used that make the difference. Kerala spends more money on "mass education than colleges and universities" (Weiner 1991, 176). No correlation exists between expenditure on education and literacy when comparing different countries because some countries, such as India, spend more funds on higher education than primary education (Weiner 1991, 160). Kerala’s emphasis on primary education has lead to a dropout rate of close to 0%, a literacy rate of 94% for males and 86% for females (The World Bank 1995, 113), and a low child work participation rate of 1.9% (in 1971) compared to the Indian average of 7.1% in 1971 (Weiner 1991, 175). Weiner (1991) points out that "The Kerala government has made no special effort to end child labor. It is the expansion of the school system rather than the enforcement of labor legislation that has reduced the amount of child labor" (p. 177).
Article 45 of the Constitution of India states that "The State shall endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years" (Jain 1985, 219). It is obvious that "the State" has not achieved this goal, shown by the literacy, dropout, and child work participation rates discussed previously. A National Policy on Education was adopted in 1986, and it addresses the need to "expand and improve basic education" (The World Bank 1995, 124). Recently, the central government implemented The District Primary Education Program (DPEP), in an attempt to act on the recommendations of the National Policy on Education. The program involves the subsidizing of approved investments, by the Government of India. The central government will provide a grant of 85% on expenditures by the states (The World Bank 1995, 123). Since these measures have been implemented very recently, results cannot be obtained and the effectiveness of the DPEP cannot be commented on at this time.

Child labour is a significant problem in India. The prevalence of it is shown by the child work participation rates which are higher in Indian than in other developing countries.
The major determinant of child labour is poverty. Even though children are paid less than adults, whatever income they earn is of benefit to poor families. In addition to poverty, the lack of adequate and accessible souces of credit forces poor parents to engage their children in the harsher form of child labour -- bonded child labour. Some parents also feel that a formal education is not beneficial, and that children learn work skills through labour at a young age. These views are narrow and do not take the long term developmental benefits of education into account. Another determinant is access to education. In some areas, education is not affordable, or is found to be inadequate. With no other alternatives, children spend their time working.
The Constitution of India clearly states that child labour is wrong and that measures should be taken to end it. The government of India has implemented the Child Labour Act in 1986 that outlaws child labour in certain areas and sets the minimum age of employment at fourteen. This Act falls short of making all child labour illegal, and fails to meet the ILO guideline concerning the minimum age of employment set at fifteen years of age. Though policies are in place that could potentially reduce the incidence of child labour, enforcement is a problem. If child labour is to be eradicated in India, the government and those responsible for enforcement need to start doing their jobs. Policies can and will be developed concerning child labour, but without enforcement they are all useless.
The state of education in India also needs to be improved. High illiteracy and dropout rates are reflective of the inadequacy of the educational system. Poverty plays a role in the ineffectiveness of the educational system. Dropout rates are high because children are forced to work in order to support their families. The attitudes of the people also contribute to the lack of enrollment -- parents feel that work develops skills that can be used to earn an income, while education does not help in this matter. Compulsory education may help in regard to these attitudes. The examples of Sri Lanka and Kerala show that compulsory education has worked in those areas. There are differences between Sri Lanka, Kerala and the rest of India. What types of social welfare structures do these places have? What are the attitudes of the people? Is there some other reason why the labour market for child labourers is poor in these areas? These are some questions that need to be answered before applying the concept of compulsory education to India? India is making progress in terms of educational policy. The DPEP has been implemented only four years ago, and so results are not apparent at this time. Hopefully the future will show that this program has made progress towards universal education, and eradicating child labour.
Child labour cannot be eliminated by focusing on one determinant, for example education, or by brute enforcement of child labour laws. The government of India must ensure that the needs of the poor are filled before attacking child labour. If poverty is addressed, the need for child labour will automatically diminish. No matter how hard India tries, child labour always will exist until the need for it is removed. The development of India as a nation is being hampered by child labour. Children are growing up illiterate because they have been working and not attending school. A cycle of poverty is formed and the need for child labour is reborn after every generation. India needs to address the situation by tackling the underlying causes of child labour through governmental policies and the enforcement of these policies. Only then will India succeed in the fight against child labour.

Table 1.1 - Percentage distribution of child workers (in India) by industrial divisions in 1981 (Census of India 1981 cited in Nangia 1987, 72).
Type of Worker Industrial Divisions (refer to text for explanation of divisions)
Urban 5.32 14.73 3.07 0.20 39.16 3.27 15.03 2.45 16.77
Rural 38.87 45.42 6.61 0.25 5.72 0.47 0.96 0.10 1.60
Total 35.93 42.74 6.30 0.24 8.65 0.72 2.19 0.30 2.93

Table 2.1 - Comparison of child wages and adult wages for the same type of job. (Child workers of Delhi region -- sample study, 1983 cited in Nangia 1987, 198).
Child wages compared to adult wages
= = to 1/2 1/2 to 1/3 1/3 to 1/4 Less than 1/4 Uncertain

39.5 19.1 7.0 3.7 6.1 24.7

Percent according to employers’ response

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